February 29, 2024

Persona 3 Reload

MSRP $69.99

“Persona 3 Reload is a win-win of a remake for old and new Persona fans alike.”

Pros

  • Slick presentation
  • Clever, modern gameplay upgrades
  • Stays faithful to the original
  • Great quality of life changes

With Persona 3 Reload, developer Atlus had a difficult task on its hands. The remake would need to introduce a foundational RPG to new audiences, ones who are familiar with two refined sequels that successfully build on everything it established. But that’s only half the battle; it would also need to stay faithful enough to the original that it wouldn’t rile up longtime fans. It’s a difficult balancing act, but Atlus walks that tightrope to create a win-win situation.

As a remake, Reload’s greatest strength is that it resists the urge to steer a genre classic too far off course. There’s a reason why the day-to-day and nightly dungeon crawling structure first seen in Persona 3 carried over to Persona 4 and 5: The flexibility to determine how you spend your days offers an organic sense of freedom that many other franchises have tried to replicate. There was no reason to dramatically overhaul that gameplay loop with Reload. Instead, Atlus doubled down on it while adding new activities, quality of life features, and combat systems to bring a touch of modernity to Persona 3.

Even if it’s not quite the best possible version of itself due to some missing content from its past versions, Reload is the definitive way to experience Persona 3. It’s a remake that will keep fans of the original happy, while bringing series’ newcomers a smoother RPG experience built on the bones of one of the genre’s best games.

Things are fine the way they are

What makes Reload shockingly faithful is that it doesn’t try to overhaul every single aspect of Persona 3. It’s still a turn-based RPG mixed with the social simulator elements that have always been an important part of the series — Persona 5’s Confidants even integrated them more into its combat and dungeon-crawling mechanics. Persona 3 Reload’s Social Links don’t have as direct an impact on battles, and are more about deepening its cast of characters. It’s a simple approach, but one that retains the narrative-focused nature of the original release rather than retrofitting it into Persona 5’s format.

It’s an incremental, but powerful next step in building upon Persona 5’s modern gameplay systems.

While the general day-to-day structure of Reload doesn’t differ much from the original, Atlus cleverly adds new nightly activities players can do and quality of life features that make Reload feel a touch more modern. When the sun sets and I’m back in my dorm, I can hang out with my teammates outside of Social Links. Rewards make socializing worthwhile. Reading sci-fi books with Fuuka lets me raise my own knowledge stat, for instance. If players hang out with their teammates enough, they can unlock their Characteristic. These are newly added unique abilities that cater to each teammate’s strengths and are an incremental, but powerful next step in building upon Persona 5’s modern gameplay systems.

After-hour hangouts are new to Reload and a welcome way to circumvent one of this remake’s biggest omissions: its missing protagonist. One of Persona 3 Portable’s selling points was the option to play as a female hero, who came with completely different Social Links from the original’s male protagonist. The male character only had Social Links with female teammates, while the female lead only had them with the guys on the squad. Reload’s nightly hangouts let players chill with the boys (and dog), which at least captures part of the experience that’s been lost by cutting the female lead.

Persona 3 Reload Koromaru
Atlus

To address the big elephant in the room: Reload doesn’t include Persona 3’s playable epilogue story called The Answer, which was introduced in Persona 3 FES. Combine that with the lack of the female protagonist, and the package does wind up feeling a touch incomplete as a remake.

One small quality of life addition I really appreciate is a new rewind feature. If you’re not happy with some of your decisions, you can rewind up to about two days on the calendar and redo your activities. With this, I didn’t have to rely as heavily on multiple save files just in case I screwed up or if I just wanted to experiment with my schedule. It’s a small, but impactful change that’ll be a lifesaver for anyone going for a perfect playthrough of a long game.

Teaching an old dog new tricks

Reload is exactly what I expected going in: Persona 3, but with Persona 5’s gameplay upgrades. When engaging with the remake’s turn-based battle system, Reload is much smoother than ever. When striking an enemy’s weakness, players gain an extra turn. In the original, an extra turn can only be used by the character who activated it, which limited how many weaknesses they could strike. However, Reload takes notes from Persona 5’s Baton Pass system, now called Shift. Players can pass off an extra turn to a teammate, which allows for much more strategic planning than the original did.

Real thought went into how Theurgies could give the heroes more life.

Some of the more substantial gameplay additions involve its dungeon-crawling aspect. As was the case in the original, players are tasked with exploring a giant tower called Tartarus. Fuuka, as the team’s navigator, learns several new abilities that make that process flow more smoothly. She can jam enemies so they don’t detect the team’s presence, making it much easier to collect treasure. She can even scan the current floor and reveal the entire layout on the mini map. Fuuka’s new abilities let her be more directly involved with the gameplay than she ever was in the original, where she felt like a little more than a commentary track.

Reload also introduces the new Theurgy system, which gives each character an ultimate attack. As I made my way up through Tartarus, I would often hold on to my Theurgy gauge until I reached a mini-boss. It’s a small, but impactful change that gives players a nice power rush and can help turn the tide in tough fights. I would unleash all four of those attacks onto a mini-boss right away to gain a huge head start in the battle. Sometimes, that was enough to just completely wipe out the mini-boss in the first turn. That’s how powerful they are.

Party members prepare for an attack in Persona 3 Reload.
Atlus

Theurgy attacks also allow each character’s personalities to shine, showing off Reload’s new camerawork. Junpei trips in the middle of his Hack n’ Blast attack, reflecting his role as the group’s comic relief during battle. It may be a system that’s standard in RPGs nowadays, but some real thought went into how Theurgies could give the heroes more life. I hope that they become standard mechanics in the series going forward, which would give the remake its own signature innovation.

More than a fresh coat of paint

Along with modern gameplay additions, Reload gives the game an entire makeover. Everything from user interface to music has been revamped. Tartarus’ randomly generated floors feel more imposing than ever before thanks to sinister visual twists. Even at its bottom levels, its plain brick wall keeps the claustrophobia of the original intact despite giving players more room to move around. Also, the black feathers that softly fall around your party as you traverse the tower is a nice, yet foreboding touch that foreshadows future story events. The higher I climb, the wilder my surroundings are. The top floors are psychedelic, with black-and-white vectors that swirl around and made me feel like I was being consumed by some organic being within Tartarus.

A character swings a sword in Persona 3 Reload.
Atlus

The remake brings in a new visual motif too, using water as a repeated symbol. It gives Reload another dimension of personality, meshing well with the pitch black themes that the original is famous for. When I pull up the main menu, the protagonist’s head splashes onto the screen seamlessly. I never get tired of seeing it. The theme cleverly spills into gameplay too. Fuuka’s Theurgy summons a huge orb of water that splashes on her teammates and buffs their stats. It’s another small, effective way that Reload reinvents Fuuka.

On the audio side, Reload is as much of a treat as any entry in the series. Persona 3’s soundtrack has a distinctive hip-hop flavor that separates it from other entries and comes courtesy of Japanese rapper Lotus Juice. For Reload, the soundtrack has been rerecorded with mostly positive results. While the new versions sound great, they do lack the rough edges the original versions had. The vocals don’t sound as raw, which takes a bit of the music’s bite away. I wish there was an option in the settings menu to switch to their original versions, which recent remakes like Super Mario RPG have implemented.

Reload stands on its own merits to deliver an incredible RPG for newcomers and longtime fans alike.

While the old music is missing a bit of its edge, the new original tracks composed for Reload are fantastic. Lotus Juice returned to spit some bars for the new tunes like Color Your Night and It’s Going Down Now. The former is an alternative track that plays while exploring the game’s central location, Tatsumi Port Island, at night. It features an upbeat piano melody interlaced with Azumi Takahashi’s beautiful vocals and Lotus Juice’s nostalgic lyrics of teenagers wishing for fun-filled nights to never end. The latter plays whenever players trigger an advantage on enemies. It mirrors the normal battle theme, Mass Destruction, including its explosive trumpets and “baby, baby, baby” lyric. It sounds like it could fit in Persona 5’s more jazz-infused soundtrack, further bridging the gap between the two titles.

Persona 3 Reload was Atlus’ chance to pull every single past incarnation of Persona 3 into one ultimate package. Atlus mostly succeeds here by updating many of Persona 3’s gameplay systems while staying surprisingly faithful to the originals. The overhauled graphics, art style, and rearranged soundtrack are all welcome additions that mostly fit right in with the original’s attitude. Even with some missing features that stop it from being the definitive way to experience Persona 3, Reload stands on its own merits to deliver an incredible RPG for newcomers and longtime fans alike.

Persona 3 Reload was reviewed on PlayStation 5.

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